Throughout the world at the present moment, almost all the leaders, scholars, and mahātmās are more or less materialists, without any taste for transcendental knowledge. Thus, in the first instance Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, rebuked Marshal Arjuna and refused to accept him as a paṇḍita or scholar, with a view to teach the so-called learned scholars and leaders of the materialistic fools.
Almost all the leaders of the people have popularized various modes of religiosity that have to do only with the material body and mind. But very few of them know that the body and mind are nothing but the outward coat and shirt of the soul proper. Simply by taking care of the outward coat and shirt, one cannot do any good for the real self, the soul proper. Since factually the soul is the chief interest, the real self, no sane man can look after the interest of the outward paraphernalia while overlooking the chief interest, his very self; the interest of the subordinates, the material bodies, is looked after automatically. But no one can serve the chief simply by serving the subordinates. In other words, it is not possible to satisfy one's inner hunger simply by soaping the outer clothing.
So when we speak of a living entity, we must see the body and the mind as two outward coverings, two layers of paraphernalia—and the living force or spirit soul as the chief, central figure. The outward coverings are temporary arrangements, and therefore everything dependent on the outward covering is also a temporary arrangement. Happiness or distress perceived in relation with the temporary arrangement of the body and mind is also temporary. Thus, in Bhagavad-gītā the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, says, "O son of Kuntī! All forms of happiness or distress, such as winter cold or summer heat, are due to material sense perception only. They come and go according to the laws of nature, and they are therefore to be tolerated without our being disturbed. One who is not disturbed by all these comings and goings of temporary happiness and distress—he alone becomes a fit person to attain eternal life."
But at the present stage of our existence, it is difficult to be unaffected by the temporary happiness and distress pertaining to the body and mind. Nor is it possible at present to assert that we are unidentified with the body and mind. Therefore, in our present state of existence, there is no possibility of our being indifferent in these matters of material happiness and distress. Thus, acquiring transcendental knowledge does not mean that we become indifferent to our present state of affairs, but it means that we should not be overwhelmed by the coming and going of happiness and distress.
We must know the nature of those temporary states of material happiness and distress. It would be sheer stupidity to ignore them, or to remain indifferent in matters concerning the spirit soul, around which the material body and mind exist. In fact, if one is fortunate enough to understand the happiness and distress of the spirit soul and gets a taste for transcendental knowledge, then he will be indifferent to the happiness and distress of the body and mind and will relish a transcendental peace eternal, even in the midst of worldly happiness and distress. Real peace can be obtained only in that transcendental stage of existence. That is the state of real contentment. If, after a long time, somebody embarks on a homeward journey, the pleasure of being homeward—bound diminishes the accompanying distress of the journey. The inconveniences of traveling become subordinate to the pleasure of heading homeward.
Sense perception is the cause of feeling all sorts of happiness and distress. Form, taste, odor, sound, and touch are different sense perceptions, which render happiness or distress in cooperation with the mind. In winter, bathing in cold water gives us pain, but in summer, the same cold water gives us pleasure. In winter, fire gives us pleasure and warmth, but in summer, the same fire gives us distress. Thus, neither fire nor water has any intrinsic power to give us happiness or distress, but they appear to us as agents of happiness or distress, according to our mode of sense perception in various circumstances. Therefore, everything that exists in the world is neither an object of happiness nor an object of distress; everything is simply subjective—that is, subject to our sense perceptions as they relate to our processes of thinking, feeling, and willing.
But such temporary sensations of happiness and distress, pertaining to the act of thinking, feeling, and willing under a false ego, are eternally different from the spirit soul and are therefore "unreal reality." Whatever advancement of knowledge, whether in art or science, that has been made by mundane scholars without reference to the eternal spirit soul is but a manifestation of the illusory modes of nature that encompass and limit the material body and mind.
Real peace and happiness can never come about through such advanced materialistic knowledge, deluded as it must be by the illusory modes of nature with a view to playing up this "unreal reality." Rather, as Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, confirms in the Bhagavad-gītā, only those who cultivate transcendental knowledge in relation to the eternal spirit soul and without being disturbed by temporary happiness and distress will be able to escape the cruel hands of birth, death, old age, and disease and will be truly happy by gaining eternal, spiritual life.
We therefore suggest that all those who have tried their utmost to do good for others but have failed despite all honest endeavors should approach Śrī Kṛṣṇa or His bona fide servitors, following the footsteps of Marshal Arjuna. One should try to do good for others, but only after knowing perfectly how to do good for others. Otherwise, if one embraces others in a false sense of altruism, one can get only a temporary benefit for himself in the shape of some profit, adoration, or distinction.
A Hitler, a Mussolini, or any other leader of that materialistic persuasion may offer his followers the mental concoction of doing good together in violent or nonviolent programs, and by such acts of so-called benevolence the leader may get recognition from his followers for some time. But the followers for whom this kind of leader has endeavored to do good will never get any lasting benefit out of such temporarily beneficial work. A void will be felt with the progress of all such benevolent activities. In fact, the followers will be put into more and more distressed conditions by following the path chalked out by this kind of so-called leader. If a blind man pretends to help another blind man cross a road, then both the blind leader and the blind follower shall fall into the further darkness of some unseen ditch. Everyone who is devoid of transcendental knowledge is just like a blind man; such a blind man must first eradicate his blindness before he can attempt to lead others to light.
Everyone who happens to take his birth in India is a potential benefactor of others, because it is on Indian soil alone that the culture of transcendental knowledge has been most elaborately presented, from ancient times to the present. The saints and sages of Bhārata-varṣa, as India has long been known, never tried to cultivate or satisfy artificially the needs of the body and the mind exclusively; they always cultured the transcendental spirit soul, which is above the material body and mind. And even now, the saints and sages continue to do so, in spite of all difficulties. But it would be sheer stupidity if Indian people attempted to do good to others without first themselves attaining transcendental knowledge.